Table of Contents

Louisiana Folklife: An Introduction

Louisiana Folklife: An Introduction, Nicholas R. Spitzer

Ethnicity, Region, Occupation and Family

Folklife and Public Policy

Public Sector Attention to Folklife in the United States, Archie Green
Folklife and Public Policy In Louisiana
A Folklife Plan for the State of Louisiana, F. A. de Caro
Folklife and Education, C. Paige Gutierrez
Folklife and the Department of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism
Office of Cultural Development: Division of the Arts, Louisiana Folklife Program, Division of Historic Preservation, Division of Archeology
Office of State Museum
Office of Tourism
Office of State Parks
Office of the State Library


1. Resources in Research, Preservation, and Presentation of Louisiana Folklife
2. Doctoral Dissertations/Masters Theses Relevant to Louisiana Folklife
3. Film and Video on Louisiana Folklife
4. Louisiana Folk Music on Sound Recordings
5. Louisiana Festivals -- Traditional and Otherwise
6. Louisiana State Documents Relevant to Folklife
7. Oral History and Folklife
8. Louisiana Folklife Legislation/Louisiana Folklife Commission
9. Louisiana Folklife Survey

Saving Your Own House: Folk Culture and Mitigation

By H.F. "Pete" Gregory

This essay originally appeared in Folklife in Louisiana: A Guide to the State published by the Office of Cultural Development in 1985. This essay is provided online courtesy of the editor since the publication is out of print.


Editor's Introduction

It is appropriate that this section-concerned as it is with things material, such as traditional crafts, food, houses and boats-should conclude with this essay on the "intangible" human elements involved in all that is cultural. People make artifacts for purposes that range from survival and efficiency to religion and ritual. At a time when there is a great tendency in Louisiana to romanticize the past, there is also a great need to identify, to use and to preserve for future appreciation that which is still valuable and instructive in living traditions. Folklorist Archie Green, who in the final section of this volume writes of federal policy involvement in both destroying and preserving folk culture, has elsewhere commented upon the ironic tendency to obliterate rural folk culture while at the same time enshrining it in glory: "Out of the long process of American urbanization-industrialization there has evolved a joint pattern of rejection as well as sentimentalization of rural mores. We flee the eroded land with its rotting cabin; at the same time we cover it in rose vines of memory." Perhaps equivalent to this process in our state are the pen and ink sketches of the rural landscape, with quaint cabins and plentiful game, so readily available in flea markets and shopping centers. Whatever one thinks of such works as art or even as a way to preserve the past, they do reflect the needs we all have to recall what we have seen and cherished, and to maintain a connection with a sense of place and cultural tradition.

Some very specific strategies that address these needs through public policy-such as those involving state and federal protection of items listed on the National Register of Historic places - are commented upon in the final section. Unfortunately, the conventional definitions of "cultural resource" currently used in public preservation policies-prehistoric artifacts, historic buildings and sites-are not sufficient to aid in preservation and appreciation of the value of living cultural resources, such as old-time fiddling or the skills of a log-house maker. This is not to say that new public policies for "cultural conservation," which are currently being developed will not aid the survival of traditional culture. Indeed, an alliance of archaeologists, historic preservationists, anthropologists, folklorists and the informed public is needed to articulate policy in this direction. Ultimately, however, it will be people at the local household and community level who will conserve and preserve their own culture.

The idea that people must act both individually and collectively to save their own houses and, by association, all their best traditional cultural creations is the primary thrust of H.F. "Pete" Gregory's poetic, polemic essay. Dr. Gregory is perhaps better qualified than anyone to comment on preservation of living cultural practices and places or, to use the related environmental term, "mitigation," since he has seen the issue from two sides: as a product of folk society and as a professional anthropologist. For nearly twenty years, he has taught students of rural north Louisiana backgrounds like his own to return home to document and better understand the traditions with which they grew up (and were often sent off to school to forget). As a person committed to the continuity of past and present cultural tradition into the future, he is alarmed by wanton destruction of the folk communities in Louisiana, as well as the houses and landscapes in and on which they reside. The loss of the land and water resources as well as the skills to utilize them are particularly telling in the face of slowdowns in the market economies to which people have often shifted and become accustomed in the last generation. At the same time, Gregory recognizes two critical points from the folk community perspective, rather than that of academics or preservationists alone. First, not all that is traditional is good (i.e., feudalistic political systems, provincialism, or backbreaking, inefficient modes of work). Second, people of folk background have a right to improve their lot in life by means of education and modern technology. Still, his point remains that the future must be planned with continuity of the landscapes, skills, values, aesthetics and behaviors-in short the cultural traditions- the past that are worthwhile. To benefit us all in balancing tradition with change, the ideas alluded to in this article-and this entire volume-will have to become part of the conventional wisdom of Louisianians from public officials to people in rural settlements, urban neighborhoods and sub-urban developments.

Part 1

Joe Foster Paddie stands on the porch of the home he moved to after his log house was submerged. Photo: Don Sepulvado, copyright.

Long before the word mitigation-that is, the amelioration of cultural change-came to the fore of environmental preservation language, a tired old Spanish man on Toledo Bend Reservoir in northwest Louisiana, began, as he put it, "saving his own house."

In 1965 the states of Louisiana and Texas agreed to dam the Sabine River, their mutual boundary. The rising waters soon flooded the old Spanish and Indian settlements in northwestern Louisiana. The communities of Las Hormigas, Sulphur Springs and Blue Lake were all displaced. Houses, some a half-century or more old, were left to the rising waters. The house of Joseph Paddie was among them. He had built it himself, with his own ax, froe, and adze. It was all wood, a beautiful casa de palos built from "heart pine" logs. With his froe (he knew the tool by its Spanish name, machete) he rived the shingles and the boards in it. Even its cerquita, or picket fence, was so constructed. The house stood isolated on a little hammock, with a small barn and a smoke house, a jamonera.

As the waters rose, the tightly constructed log pen began to float off its hewn foundation blocks. Joe Paddie, regretting the loss of his work, paddled his dugout canoe to his old place, and laboriously towed the "pen house" to the shore to the new lake. A young logger sympathetic to Paddie's efforts hooked his bulldozer to it and pulled it to the old man's new home site.

Once there the old timer set about reassembling the house. A sudden "Norther" glazed the forest, and trees snapped like matches under the ice. The lumber man came by and Joe Paddie asked him for the broken logs. "My daddy told me not to waste anything, to use everything. They were leaving those logs there to rot. They gave them to me." By the time Joe Foster Paddie died, in the late 1970s, he had practically finished reconstructing his own log house. Only a serious stroke had prevented its completion.

In the 1960s federal legislation only protected the archaeological remains in Toledo Bend and similarly impacted places. Louisiana and Texas had no laws applicable to archaeological remains not on state or federal lands or outside federal agency projects, much less laws protecting folk culture anywhere. Joe Foster Paddie, drawing on the strength and skills of his culture, had provided his own leadership in preserving folk culture, Even though the people around him failed to recognize the skills and workmanship in his house, or the value of the forest resources being wasted which could have been cycled into such a place, the old timers felt strongly that they should "save their house" so they could show the younger people thereabouts what they had been taught: not to waste anything.

In a rapidly expanding world with population pressures impinging on land and water resources, the natural environment of the planet has been severely impacted. Man, with powerful machines, has made more drastic changes in the landscape in recent times than for thousands of previous years. Dams, levees, roads, urban expansion, waste disposal areas, and even recreation areas and parks resulted, in some cases, in the direct destruction of cultural resources.

Archaeologists recognized that the loss of prehistoric remains was constantly accelerating, and that they were faced with the almost total destruction of their research interest, namely archaeological sites. By the middle 1960s they made a concerted effort to arouse public interest in the preservation of sites, especially those in the Lower Mississippi Valley. At a meeting on Avery Island in 1965 archaeologists in Louisiana joined with others to attempt mitigation of agricultural impacts in the Lower Mississippi Valley. At the national level, laws lobbied for by professional and avocational archaeologists alike soon made "cultural resource inventory," "assessment" and "mitigation" standard words in the vocabulary of American preservationists.

With the establishment of the National Register of Historic Places criteria for assessing the significance of sites were established. Sites, then, of national and state, or more rarely, local significance were to be protected. The federal legislation was soon extended not only to standing structures like houses and forts, but to cemeteries and archaeological remains, Jabbour and Marshall (1979) of the American Folklife Center have commented on the weakness of these criteria with regard to living folk culture, but they are currently our best tools for protection.

Once a site was declared eligible for inclusion, the projected impact on it had to be mitigated. The states soon all had in place a standing committee and a State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) to oversee nomination of significant sites and mitigation of impacts upon sites. By the 1970s all federally funded projects required a survey, assessment and/ or mitigation of impact on cultural resources involved with them.

Cultural anthropologists (ethnologists and ethnographers), geographers, folklorists and sociologists have been, until now, less active than archaeologists and historians in their efforts to "preserve" living groups or cultures. There have been some who were extremely concerned about the impact of industrialized society on folk societies, but active programs to mitigate the rate of change or folk landscape destruction inherent in development were few and far between. Applied anthropology, for a long period seemed destined to facilitate change induced by mass society rather than to help people modify or adapt it to their local cultures. In short, most applied anthropology, from the 1950s on into the 1970s was aimed at assimilating local traditional culture groups into the mainstream of industrial society.

Louisiana, like the rest of America, went through such development in the post-World War II period. Change was seen as inevitable and "for the best." In many ways the coming of surfaced roads, and improved communications, schools and medicine certainly was advantageous to the people. Access on the part of folk societies to new sources of culture often slowed down interest in community studies and folkloristic research for over a decade, because the "professionals" thought the people were "lost" and folk culture was now "impure." That decade, from 1940 until 1950, saw broad and often problematic changes in Louisiana. Oil, the "mother's milk" of the state's economy, boomed. Not only was it in demand for the war effort, but it was requisite for the continuance of American technology, Oilfields sprung up everywhere: in the marshes, cypress swamps and rice fields of south Louisiana as well as the uplands of north Louisiana. New people came, too, Texans and Oklahomans, with new accents and lifestyles.

Not since the development of pre-Civil War plantations had the state seen such massive changes. By the 1950s the strong interest in Louisiana culture, so evident in local color writing and folk studies in the 1930's, began to weaken. For example, the ongoing attack on Louisiana French in public schools gathered strength and the socioeconomic transformation shoved rural Louisianans, often unconsciously but sometimes with great trauma, into a new relationship with mass American culture.

During and after the social upheaval of the 1960s and 1970s the "traditional" modus operandi was being questioned with regard to development and progress. Committed to the eradication of all kinds of social injustice, change seemed inevitable-the only pathway to freedom and progress. Louisiana was becoming part of the "New South."

Each major socioeconomic step reified "progress" and saw more and more trade-offs with business and industry. New technology appeared everywhere in an instant. The "impact" of those trade-offs has yet to be measured because few students of culture took a "before and after" look at communities or individuals involved.

Some folklorists and anthropologists have suggested (Personal Communication, Nick Spitzer 1981) that a developing middle-class value set ironically often brought about self-reflection and initial interest in folk cultural preservation. Certainly middle-class affluence did not slow the movement down. On the grassroots level, however, it has yet to develop its full potential because for many "change" is still the route to affluence and participation in the broader culture. The ability to keep one's identity is balanced with whatever industry and business demand of the person. Nostalgia is an old Southern culture trait, and so is hardheaded resistance to change. People have traditionally held on to their roots, long before there were any programmatic "strategies" or money to help with preservation. Still the pressure towards change has intensified through time.

Folk culture persists in part because it is so common, so ubiquitous, that people are almost un-aware they possess something of value. At another point it persists because people have felt it important to preserve. They are almost driven by the need for preservation, and in some cases it is a struggle for survival. In a tightly structured class system, cultural identity hinges on subtle nuances. The use of certain artifacts, the pronunciation of a word, musical style, body movement, and a myriad of even more subconscious things come into play. As rapid changes take place many people seem suddenly to "fall free" of their cultural background while others cling desperately to these nuances or vestiges of the old order. It is an individual thing, and though social scientists have devoted more and more ink to the balance between tradition and change since the worldwide impetus towards mass technology developed after World War II, it is still a phenomenon that is not always understood.

Part 2

While the need for socioeconomic change is paramount in much of Louisiana, the urge to maintain traditional behavior has been almost as strong. Gradually, racial and economic boun-daries lessened to the point where old comfortable exchanges could begin again and where socio-cultural interaction was not threatening to the individuals involved. For example, music, strongly identified as to its ethnicity, neutralized itself in "rockabilly" and "rock" or the highly sanitized modern gospel music of white and black alike. Syncretism, the selective blending of diverse elements, takes away the sting of confrontation. It sweetens the bitter process of assimilation. In short, one can change without total rejection of older more comfortable behaviors.

The process of change is constant in culture, and the futility of the classic material focused "preservationist" approach, when applied to living traditional culture, can be seen everywhere in America. Fake forts, rice mortars sitting in a modern architectural setting, WPA paintings on post office walls--all such things merely make token acknowledgement of traditional culture. While the old man mentioned at the outset felt the urge to save and even restore his former home, he did decline to move back into it. It was a memorial to what and where he had been. It was important enough that he could not just throw it away, but it was not quite as functional as it once had been, either. So the folklorists and ethnographers have to understand cultural context, not just what is still around or how it grew historically from local cultural and environmental interaction, but how it continues to survive and how traditional items and behaviors can enrich and inform all of us.

Cultural resource management that includes living cultural behaviors, places and artifacts is burdened with several problems. First, it intervenes in the flow of culture and people must make value judgments about things. Often as not, those value judgments are made on an interpretive, "outsider," basis. Things (houses, barns, roads, artifacts and even swimming holes) have been incorporated in a preservationist sort of way. The tacit assumption here is that the humanist's values prevail: that the past's contributions to the present give security and continuity, and are thus valuable to human development. The older forms are also valuable as a source of inspiration to later generations.

Second, even if people can be convinced that they should preserve certain constellations of cultural behavior, preservationists must come to grips with intolerance and other less revered aspects often found in traditional cultures. How does one decide which are the best and worst elements in a culture let alone go about preserving that which is good?

In the most positive sense, the people who manage cultural resources are faced with a broad mandate to educate people, both in the small, folk communities and in the more cosmopolitan centers, about human diversity and the value of individuals who maintain it. If carried out fully, this could be one of the boldest social experiments of the twentieth century. However, it has yet to really involve the broader society to climb down from the towers of academe and to have the "folks" themselves participate in preservation and maintenance.

Yet that is beginning to happen. In Louisiana, a community-based folklife festival is a good example of what takes place. The Natchitoches Folk Festival has the involvement of all sectors of the community: industry, business, academics and local folk of various ethnic and occupational groups. These people have input into planning, design and monitoring the festival production. Folk musicians and craftspeople are actively involved in the design and production. Students and technicians visit the rural and urban homes where traditions flourish to document such people and practices. That ambiance is transmitted, as best it can be, in a public gathering.

Regional meetings, like that produced by the Louisiana Folklife Program of the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism and Northwestern State University in 1981 at Ferriday expose local community leaders, craftspeople and musicians to professional folklorists and anthropologists. In such cases, the local traditions are raised to a higher level of consciousness and the means of developing and maintaining them can be discussed directly.1 Other strategies need creative development. The evolving use of folk artists in the Artists-in-the-Schools Program of the State Division of the Arts is another vehicle for cultural maintenance, through which children learn local traditional arts and crafts from local people in an institutional setting. Local folk festivals are blossoming, and some, like the State Fiddling Contest, are beginning to stress folk traditions which cannot be found elsewhere. Local tradition is also increasingly documented and disseminated in records, radio programs and films. Via such media, folk musical forms can be given more public status and become less likely to be replaced by mass culture. All these activities combine to present a stratagem of maintenance carefully monitored both by the participants in the local cultures and by outside, academic "expertise."

Even so, new problems face Louisiana. The once vast Atchafalaya basin is a vanishing natural and cultural landscape, All strategies to commercially utilize and-or preserve the basin will alter cultures directly or indirectly tied to it, and most (U.S. Dept. of Interior, letter 1980) still accede the loss of more wilderness there. Moss gathering and ginning, once major activities, have disappeared from the basin except at Labadieville. Commercial fishing, crawfishing and boat building are also threatened. Many places peripheral to the basin have made the predictable transition from commercial fishing areas, to commercial camps for sportsmen, to summer home sites for nearby urbanites (Radesinovich 1963. Not only does this modify the local economy, but it displaces the fishing families, and eventually that lifestyle is lost forever.

In order to maintain cultural practices in the basin, comparable to seasonal rounds observed by cultural geographers (Comeaux 1972; Gregory 1965), the loss of the wetlands and trees must be avoided. Expanding industries (especially petrochemical plants), which demand more and more land and water, must be better monitored and controlled.

Limited, controlled use can preserve it, but presently commercial fisherfolk, oil developers, corporate farmers, and lumber interests are locked in debate about how to deal with this problem. The 575,000 acres of the basin will silt up in the lower areas (lakes available in the 1930s now support sugar cane and soybeans). The "preservation and folklore communities" (Stipe 1980) have to realize that they do not make the decisions about cultural maintenance. The cultural resource management concept that has developed out of archaeological and historical scholarship since the establishment of the National Register of Historic Places cannot be implemented with living cultures unless some strong efforts are exerted to educate the public, especially the younger people, about the value of cultural diversity. Wildlife and conservation in Louisiana are synonymous in the popular mind. The dilemma facing the commercial fisheries is that without state and federal control they lose the basin, and, likely, with such control they lose the basin. They are hardly in a mood to discuss "preservation," but they are in a mood to discuss "maintenance." It is more than a semantic game; to the fisherman it is a way of life. Since they face extinction, just maintaining their culture is tantamount to jousting with powerful foreign countries, the state and federal government, corporate farm and mineral interests, and the conservationists who often preserve the natural environment without the holistic view that sees man on the landscape.

Somehow cultural "managers" and natural preservationists have to incorporate the local peo-ple . The several levels of officialdom and industry must also be included in cultural preservation plans. No segment of American life exists in a vacuum. The "folk-urban continuum," a perspec-tive expounded by Robert Redfield only two generations ago, has not really taken root in folkloristic involvement in mitigation planning.

The Atchafalaya Basin social network is a fine example. Crawfish leave the docks at Bayou Pierre Part daily, when they are in season, bound for New Orleans. A French-speaking laundryman from New Orleans delivers freshly dry cleaned clothes to that same community. A boatload of ice is delivered from Pierre Part to an isolated fisherman's landing in the swamp. An interaction resulted: the New Orleanian reports the news about fishing to his neighbors and on Saturday they head for their favorite areas-often with several cases of beer and some Pierre Part native in tow. The iceman carries the market news, which he may have heard at lunch, eating turtle stew with the laundry man, to the isolated fisherman.

Planning on urban recreation in the Basin without understanding a vast complex of such relationships and how they work is naive indeed. To "preserve" Pierre Part, one has to "save" the wild wetlands, but also to maintain the urban ties. Pierre Part is necessary to New Orleans' recreationists as well as local fishermen. Unfortunately, this perspective is slow to develop. The problem is comparable to the observation of Jabbour and Marshall that folklorists and preservationists see their interests as mutually exclusive. At some point they all have to realize further that the "community of interest" contains the people who bear the cultural tradition. No amount of outside interest, or money, will foster that development unless the people who create and carry the tradition want it (1980:48, 49).

In the Delta of northeastern Louisiana bulldozers are knocking down the last cypress stands: the "stuff" of houses, boats, fences and barns sacred to Louisiana Indians, likely, because of its many uses, the trees are piled and burned. Land leveling and "cleaning" is claiming such wetlands, at the rate of 111,000 acres in eight years. Projections conservatively estimate total change by 1991 into a facsimile of the American Midwestern prairies. No trees, no grass or brush are left. Chemicals retard weeds and palmetto. Great stands of wild river cane and clouds of Spanish moss die because of misplaced herbicides. Dust and chemicals fill the air.

Soybeans, wheat and rice replace cotton and cattle. Tugboats replace the paddle boats of fishermen. Diesel replaces the stern wheelers. Black families find themselves in the squalid tenements of the towns, their churches torn down, their cemeteries plowed under. The older planters yield to multi-row planters and "pole barns" house air-conditioned tractors and combines.

The people come from Missouri and Illinois. The old soft Southern dialect is interspersed with Ozark "you'uns" and "yorn" or crisp midwestern sounds. The old swampers went to the new overseers, corporate farm managers, and asked them if they could kill the squirrels before the land was cleared. They were denied. The hunters began to realize that a major source of outdoor recreation was taken from them. At that point, even the hardest of poachers sought solace in conservation. People now in college ask about "camp boats," "float roads" and how to handle hogs. Adults live who have never seen a flood, chased a deer, or hunted bullfrogs, Old landmarks are going, the people do not know what the antebellum levees, gin stacks, or rice pumps were. Bulldozer operators seldom have taken history or folklore courses.

At the African Queen, a black club in Ferriday, stereo sounds have replaced the blues. At the Primitive African Baptist Church, in the same area, the Easter Rock ceremony no longer happens. It is a new land, with new people. The old cultures linger, but they are being transformed. In an age of videotapes, cassette recorders, and easy photography, so little is being archived, so little is being saved. It is so easy now to change the world with technology; it is also relatively easy to "preserve" the dying things with documentary films and recordings. What is not easy is keeping the best parts alive. Again, it is clear that all is not lost. The only comfort is to be found in the people. There are enough of the old ideas, values and artifacts to modify the new. The older people still know that the river will rise and that human technology will sooner or later fail, and the Mississippi will reclaim her former channels. When that or a similar natural or economic disaster happens, the old people may become the leaders again and the new people will have to learn.

It is at the local community level that some strategy for cultural maintenance must be plugg-ed in. It has always been that way. Here folklorists can take a lesson or two from historic preservationists and archaeologists. Once involved in the Louisiana Archeological Society, a vehicle for lay participation, one manager of a hundred thousand acre farm in the Delta systematically set about preserving and collecting sites. He even started a parish-wide museum effort. Students of folklife should not rule out such possibilities. The Indians taught the first Europeans, the African slaves learned from both of them and added their own culture. Now comes a new generation, corporate farmers with computerized farms. They, too, must learn from the people who lived on the land before, and now, with them.

One wonders how there will be continuity. No studies exist of the black communities, not a single paper has ever been written on the shanty towns "over the levee" which bulldozers are grinding away for suburban tract houses. There are still vestiges of those cultures left. Preser-vationists oriented toward the "big house" struggle to save the grand and vernacular houses, but folk houses only now and then. The old people of folk society are left to keep their counsel, to adjust. The National Register now contains a clause recommending the folk cultures be protected, but no formal "rules" or "guidelines" have developed to facilitate that mandate.

In northwestern Louisiana strip mining for lignite, a variety of soft coal, is developing. A response to the nation's energy crisis, such activities have spread from east Texas to Louisiana and Arkansas. These operations will literally strip away thousands of acres of woodlands in northern Natchitoches, Sabine, DeSoto, Red River and Bienville parishes. A number of isolated ethnic communities (Cochanda Island, Rambin and SmithportLake) will be faced with an influx of new people and in fact, have already begun to develop trailer parks and a washateria to accommodate the newcomers. Thousands of acres of woodlands will disappear; the open range cattle industry and wood hogs, once the stand-by for rural north Louisiana, will soon be gone. With that goes hunting the deer, quail, fox and coon that have provided seasonal food and recreation for generations of hill and valley people.

Architecturally, the country has all but lost its heritage, but the old stark, shuttered Methodist churches are still there. More rarely a dormered English-style barn appears, or a log house. Folk cemeteries-homemade of concrete and glass, or with hand-carved wooden crosses will soon be "islands" in the coal strips.

Black families, who have remained in place and independent, since Reconstruction, will have to yield land and access. Louisiana's loss will be California and Illinois' gains. A few families have refused to lease their mineral rights to lignite, hoping, to preserve a hundred acres here and there. The mining strips will still alter the drainage, strip the forests and overpopulate the country! Yet, these conservative families may provide a vast resource for mitigation of the destruction of the folk landscapes. National priorities always seem to take precedence over local communities and cultures. Poor whites, blacks, and a few Indians, left isolated for generations, find themselves counted by everyone from archaeologists to lease hounds.

Laurel Valley Plantation near Thibodaux. Photograph: Nicholas R. Spitzer.

Strip mining will displace pulpwood logging and oil production, yet another set of tools and terms, with the people to use them, will come into the land. Nobody knows how many will be foreign or how many local people will work there. Now, before the full impact starts, folklorists and ethnologists should be doing baseline studies of settlement patterns, material and non-material culture. Local community leaders are trying to make connections to accommodate these changes. Cultural education involving folk tradition could facilitate adjustment in both the community and the industrial spheres.

In spite of these circumstances, up until now only archaeological assessments have been made. Due to the urgency of the situation, the Louisiana State Archaeologist's office has included a standing structure assessment with archaeological fieldwork. A local cultural geographer, Dr. George A. Stokes of Northwestern State University, in Natchitoches, has completed, at his own expense, a complete photographic record of the housing on Chocanda Island and has begun work in adjacent areas. All this work has centered on material culture; nonmaterial culture, from folktale to oral history, has yet to be sampled. It is vastly more complex to document and preserve because of its intangibility, but it is also more basic to the ways of life. It is people, with their beliefs, aesthetics, values and behaviors that make artifacts.

There are various "agencies" of change on the local level, like the Lignite Institute at Northwestern State University, but most have not attempted the articulation of any cultural research, concentrating instead on geological and physical impact, soils and water quality, etc. Only the Folklife Center and the Williamson Museum at Northwestern have made limited systematic efforts to collect and encourage preservation of non-material culture in the region affected.

Here is the future of Louisiana, a state blessed with untold mineral wealth and a great diversity of folk cultures. Inevitably, development will alter old ways and begin new ones. At no time in the history of regional folklore has such a challenge to measure continuity and change been so outstanding. That the State of Louisiana, through the vehicle of the Office of Cultural Development's, Louisiana Folklife Program, is addressing itself to impact and mitigation strategies is a heartening sign. Perhaps the losses of the past will be lessons for the future. Rather than mourning "lost cultures," we can even hope to watch the development of new, syncretic ones that utilize the best of tradition.

Perhaps, like Foster Paddie, Louisiana can design ways to keep the traditional treasures and enjoy the new things humans can create as well. It is a challenge to folklorists and anthropologists, as well as government officials, teachers, preservationists and the media, to help the people "save their own house."


1. In the time since this article was written numerous regional efforts at cultural preservation have taken place. For example, Louisiana Tech's architecture department is continuing a survey of north Louisiana folk houses. Susan Roach-Lankford at the same university conducted the most thorough field survey to date in north Louisiana and produced the exhibit and booklet Gifts from the Hills, (1983). The Alexandria Museum completed a survey and exhibit on folklife called Doing It Right and Passing It On (1981). Currently the Louisiana Folklife Program is concluding its Florida Parishes Folklife Survey.


Comeaux, Malcolm. Atchafalaya Swamp Life: Settlement and Folk Occupations. Geoscience and Man 2, Museum of Geoscience, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, 1972.

Gregory, H. F. "The Black River Commercial Fisheries." Louisiana Studies. 2(1965): 1-15.

Jabbour, Alan andHoward W. Marshall."Folklore and Cultural Preservation." In New Directions in Rural Preservation. Robert Stipe, ed. Government Printing Office, Washington, 1980.

Radesinovich, Rade. "Landscape Changes at Clear, Saline and Black Lake in Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana." Louisiana Studies. 2(1963): 1022.

Redfield, Robert. Peasant Society/The Little Community. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1960.

Reiss, Ellen Ruth. "The Vanishing Swimming Hole: Policy and Planning Perspectives on Rural Recreation." In New Directions in Rural Preservation. Robert Stipe, ed. Government Printing Office, Washington, 1980.

Stipe, Robert E. "Rural Preservation: A Perspective and A Challenge." In New Direetions in Rural Preservation. Robert Stipe, ed. Government Printing Office, Washington, 1980.

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Atchafalaya: America's Greatest River Swamp. Washington, 1976.